Saturday, October 23, 2004

Actors, athletes add luster to House races

By Nancy Zuckerbrod
The Associated Press

Election 2004 page
WASHINGTON - Clooney, Paterno, Bird, Sheen: The guest list at a party for Hollywood "A"-listers and sports legends? No, just some of famous names running for House seats or helping House candidates around the country.

The most talked-about is Democrat Nick Clooney, father of actor George, the former ER doctor and Ocean's Eleven star, and brother of the late singer Rosemary Clooney. Clooney - famous in his own right nationally for introducing films on American Movie Classics - is competing against Republican businessman Geoff Davis for an open seat in Kentucky's 4th District.

Scott Paterno, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno's son, is challenging six-term Democratic incumbent Tim Holden in Pennsylvania's 17th District.

Actor Martin Sheen, known to millions of viewers as President Josiah Bartlet on The West Wing, has stumped for Democrat Beth Troutman in North Carolina's 8th District, while cast members have contributed to her campaign.

Larry Bird, the basketball legend from Indiana State and the Boston Celtics, has helped raise money for scout-turned-candidate Jon Jennings in Indiana's 8th District. Jennings is trying to unseat five-term Republican Rep. John Hostettler.

As the political parties search for candidates with name recognition or those who have some star power, relatives and friends of celebrities are being tapped for races, said Norman Ornstein, an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

"The parties are trying to come up with candidates who have something that gives them traction," said Ornstein. He referred to it as "icing on the cake, but it'll never be the cake itself."

Being George Clooney's father has meant thousands of campaign dollars for Nick, with such film stars as Michael Douglas, Warren Beatty, Renee Zellweger and Drew Barrymore contributing.

Attorney Scott Paterno plays up his family ties, even handing out autographed photos of his dad and leaning on him for fund-raising help. But he faces a tough challenge to unseat Holden in the central Pennsylvania district that includes Harrisburg.

Republican Reps. Robin Hayes of North Carolina and John Hostettler of Indiana also are thought to be on pretty safe ground, even though their Democratic opponents have received help from the likes of Sheen and Bird.

"A candidate's connection to fame or notoriety is a mixed bag in most cases," said Greg Speed, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Sometimes it helps. Sometimes it hurts. More often than not these races are decided on other factors."

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